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Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon XXXV. The Nature and Importance of Self-Devotion to God.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Romans xii. 1.

THIS chapter is, with admirable propriety, recited by the church, in the epistles for the Sundays after the Epiphany: for having, on that festival, celebrated the manifestation of her Saviour to the Gentiles, as well as to those who before were God's chosen people, it is her design, on the succeeding Sundays, to enforce those holy graces and virtues which Christ in his Gospel enjoins; and with this view a chapter is selected which cannot be surpassed for a clear, and affecting, and impressive exhibition of Christian morals. I shall at present confine myself to the important and interesting verse which I have recited as my text, which will afford sufficient matter for a single discourse.

The first part of the Epistle to the Romans--that which precedes the chapter from which my text is taken--may be styled, from the nature of the subjects which it discusses, the speculative or argumentative part. The apostle answers the objections of the Jewish converts to the admission of the Gentiles to the privileges of the Christian [425/426] covenant, and shows the inefficacy of the observances of the Jewish law, considered as the meritorious ground of salvation. In a masterly strain of argument he proves, that as both Jews and Gentiles have "sinned, and come short of the glory of God," they can be "justified," not by the "deeds of the law," by which is the "knowledge" of sin, and not the pardon of it, and which pronounces the sentence, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die;" but only by that "redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom Go I hath set forth to be a propitiation through, faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Be proves that, in the eternal purpose of God, both Jews and Gentiles are predestinated, not individually and absolutely to everlasting life, but generally and conditionally to the blessings of this covenant of mercy in the present life; there "being no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is nigh unto all who call upon him; and all that call upon him shall be saved."

Having thus unfolded the nature and the extent of the covenant of mercy in Jesus Christ, he proceeds, in the latter part of the epistle, to enforce those practical graces and virtues which constitute the perfection of our nature, and to which we are especially excited by the mercy of God in the redemption. To this latter part of the epistle, containing this admirable summary of evangelical duty, my text is the introduction; and it is an introduction worthy of the sublime exhortation which follows, in which the eloquent apostle exhibits a most perspicuous and interesting display of the whole circle of Christian virtues. "I beseech you [426/427] therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

In order to open to you the full force and meaning of this important passage, I shall consider,

I. The duty enjoined--"the presenting of our bodies a living sacrifice:"

II. The exalted characteristics of this sacrifice; that it is "a living sacrifice," "holy," "acceptable unto God," and our "reasonable service:" and,

III. Lastly. The motives to this duty, contained in the affecting address of the apostle: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God."

I am to explain,

I. The duty enjoined in the text--"the presenting of our bodies a living sacrifice unto God."

The comparisons are various under which the inspired writers represent to us the duties of the Christian life. Sometimes they are set forth under the similitude of a race, in which all our faculties are to be occupied in contending for the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus. Sometimes they are exhibited under the similitude of a combat, in which, in order to overcome the enemies who would wrest from us the crown of eternal life, we must "put on the whole armour of God, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, the breastplate of righteousness; our feet being shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace." And in my text, Christian duty is displayed under the significant emblem of a "sacrifice." We are to present our "bodies a living sacrifice." Sacrifice being a material transaction, in order to preserve the consistency of the figure, the "body" is here put for [427/428] the whole man: we are to present our bodies--the meaning evidently is, we are to present ourselves "a living sacrifice."

It is thus the intention of the apostle to excite us to present ourselves--our whole persons, our souls as well as our bodies--a sacrifice unto God. And this duty implies,

1. That we devote ourselves supremely to God;

2. That we thankfully acknowledge his gracious authority over us;

3. That we renounce and mortify all the sinful passions of our nature; and,

4. Lastly. That all these acts be performed in reliance on the merits and efficacy of that "great sacrifice," once offered for the sins of the world.

The presenting of ourselves a "sacrifice unto God" implies,

1. That we devote ourselves supremely to him.

It would be foreign to the subject, for me to enter into any explanation of the origin or nature of the rite of sacrifice. Reason would never suggest the offering of an animal as a sacrifice for sin. The rite of sacrifice was instituted by God himself, as the means of propitiating his offended justice; and it pointed significantly to that one great sacrifice, by which, in the inscrutable determination of the divine counsels, everlasting peace was to be effected between God and man. Of every species of sacrifice it was a characteristic, that the thing offered was separated from all common purposes, and solemnly devoted to God; it became his property, and his alone. How important and extensive, then, the duty implied in the injunction to "present ourselves a sacrifice unto God!" We are to surrender ourselves wholly to him, as our only Lord [428/429] and Master. We are to be separated from all pursuits and from all enjoyments that interfere with the supreme allegiance due to him. The world, and the things of the world, are never to be regarded when they come in competition with the sacred demands of his law. From this surrender of ourselves to the service of God, no faculty or affection of our souls is to be exempt; they must all be laid on the altar, as an offering to him whose sovereign, holy, just, and reasonable requisition it is--"Give me thy heart." Our understandings must be devoted to him; so that, (from the words of the church in one of her collects,) "by his inspiration, we may think those things that are good." Our wills and affections must be so controlled and directed, that (still to use the expressive language of the church) "we may love the things that God commandeth, and follow after that which he doth promise." All our appetites and propensities must be so reduced under the dominion of grace, that (still using the language of the liturgy) "our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may always obey the divine motions in righteousness and true holiness."

In fine, a supreme sense of our obligations to God must so animate and direct our whole conduct, that it may be said of us, in the emphatic language of the apostle, "whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we do all to the glory of God;" that is, aiming at his favour and regulated by his law.

If this, brethren, is not our character and state, the duty enjoined by the apostle, of presenting ourselves a sacrifice to God, is yet to be performed.

[430] 2. This solemn devotion of ourselves as a Sacrifice unto God, also implies a thankful acknowledgment of his power and goodness.

It was one of the important objects of sacrifice to testify that the person who offered it, humbly and thankfully acknowledged the merciful and gracious dominion of the Creator of the universe. A lively sense of obligation, therefore, to the power and goodness of God, is a principal constituent of that spiritual sacrifice which we are directed to offer to him.

We are to present ourselves to God, as the creatures of his power, the children of his bounty, the subjects of his redeeming grace. We are humbly and thankfully to adore him as the Framer of our bodies and the Father of our spirits; the Author of all our mercies, and our reconciled Father and God In Christ Jesus. We are gratefully to acknowledge, that, for every enjoyment which we possess, and every hope which we cherish, we depend upon him, the Giver of all good; and we are to resolve to glorify this our Almighty Benefactor and Father with our bodies and our spirits, that are his. Thus shall we fulfil the high import of the injunction of the apostle, to "present ourselves a sacrifice to God."

3. In this duty is also implied the renunciation of our sinful passions.

In some of the sacrifices of the Jewish law, "the offals of the beasts slain were burnt without the camp;" they were not suffered to degrade and defile the hallowed offering made to God. This circumstance teaches us, that in presenting ourselves a sacrifice to God, we are to separate from the every unholy passion. The Being to whom [430/431] we devote ourselves is infinitely holy, and he cannot look on sin but with abhorrence. If the offering we make of ourselves be polluted by inordinate and unholy passions, it will be an abomination unto him; and his language to us will be, what it was to the sensual and corrupt Jews of old--"Bring no more vain oblations." The Being to whom we devote ourselves, infinitely good in himself, delighteth in doing good to all his creatures; and the devotion of our most pure and ardent affections to his service, will be but a feeble tribute to him who gives us richly all things to enjoy--in whom we live, and move, and have our being--who is, in Christ Jesus, reconciling us unto himself, and making us heirs of everlasting life.

4. Lastly. All these acts must be performed in reliance on the merits and efficacy of that "great sacrifice," once offered for the sins of the world.

"Jesus Christ, by the offering of himself, once offered, hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." He was that "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," from whom every other sacrifice derived all its significance and value, and without the divine efficacy of which it would have been impossible that "the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin."

Through the merits of this great sacrifice, then, will the offering which we make of ourselves be rendered acceptable to God. Our best actions, our most exalted virtues, will not stand the scrutiny of his justice and holiness. Universal and entire as is the surrender of ourselves to God which the Christian sacrifice exacts, exalted and difficult as are the duties implied in it, it is only [451/452] through Christ, who strengtheneth us, that we shall be able thus to present ourselves to God.

This sacrifice, then, considered in itself, would be unavailing--and rested on as aground of merit would be highly insulting to the majesty of our Almighty Sovereign. But, presented in the name, and urged by the intercession of our divine Redeemer and gracious High Priest, it will be a "holy sacrifice, and acceptable to God."

The nature of the Christian sacrifice being thus explained, I am led to the second division of my discourse, in which I am to lay before you,

II. The exalted characteristics of this sacrifice; it is a "living" sacrifice--it is holy--it is acceptable unto God--and it is a reasonable service.

It is a living sacrifice.

The sacrifices of the Jewish law required the death of the victim. But the Gospel sacrifice promotes the purity, the strength, the everlasting life of our natures: all its exactions advance our best and eternal interests. The Christian, presenting himself a sacrifice unto God, engages to glorify his Lord and Master by the most lively homage of his heart, by the most active and devoted obedience of his life. Employing, while he sojourns in this state of probation, all his powers, all his affections, all his exertions, in the service of his Almighty Maker, in the discharge of those pious, relative, and social duties, which his Sovereign and Judge, to whom he is to render an account, prescribes; and offering, when he is advanced to the sacred courts of the church triumphant, the everlasting tribute of praise; the Christian lives, in time and in eternity, to his God, His sacrifice is a "living" sacrifice.

[433] It is also a "holy" sacrifice.

Unlike the sacrifices of the law, which derived all their sanctity from their divine institution, the Christian sacrifice is holy in its nature, in its effects, and in the means by which it is performed. It is a solemn and entire renunciation of the baneful dominion of sin; it engages us to the practice of every virtue; and thus leads us to become holy, as the God to whom we devote ourselves is holy: and this sacrifice is commenced and completed in the strength of that Divine Spirit who is the everlasting fountain of holiness.

This sacrifice is also acceptable unto God.

It is acceptable to God, because it leads us to renounce those evil passions and pursuits which insult his authority, contemn his justice, defy his power, and abuse his mercy; and because it excites us to cultivate those graces and virtues that conform us to his image, and that testify that we are deeply affected with a sense of the infinite obligations that bind us to him. When, through faith in the merits of his eternal Son, and relying on the efficacious aids of his grace, assured and pledged to us by the ministry and in the ordinances of his church, we present unto God the homage of pure and upright hearts, and the grateful obedience of our lives, we offer unto him a sacrifice more acceptable than all the costly oblations that were poured forth on the altar of the Jewish sanctuary. We have no longer cause to inquire, in the language of doubt arid anxiety, "Wherewithal shall we come before the Lord, and bow ourselves before the most high God? Shall we come before him with burnt-offerings, and calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten [433/434] thousands of rivers of oil? Shall we give our first-born for our transgression, the fruit of the body for the sin of the soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

And it is a further commendation of this sacrifice that it is a reasonable service.

It is indeed with great propriety styled a service; it is claimed by our almighty Creator, our bountiful Benefactor, our merciful Redeemer, our most compassionate Father and Friend. Every principle of our nature, every rule of justice, every feeling of gratitude impels us to serve him, who, as the greatest and best of Beings, receives the homage of al the works that he has made. It is therefore not only a service, but a reasonable service. The duties which it enjoins are all of high and obvious obligation; they all tend to promote the peace and the perfection of our natures. Piety to God, justice and charity to man, temperance and purity in the government of ourselves--these are duties which, in all their various and important exercises, reason cordially and fully approves; they are the law of our being, a transcript of that eternal law which constitutes the harmony of the universe, and in which all intelligent creatures find their glory and their happiness. The Christian, therefore, in solemnly devoting himself to the practice of these exalted duties, in renouncing the tyranny of sinful passion, so destructive to his peace, so degrading and corrupting, engages in a reasonable service.

I have thus exhibited to you the nature of the Christian sacrifice, and its exalted characteristics.

It embraces the supreme devotion of all our [434/435] powers and affections to the service of our Almighty Lord and Sovereign. It enjoins us thankfully to adore that infinite power and goodness which sustain and comfort us, and to renounce those sensual passions which are not more offensive to the divine purity than degrading to ourselves. It teaches us to rely, for the acceptance of this supreme and holy oblation of ourselves, on the merits and grace of him through whom alone guilty creatures have access to the throne of offended justice. This sacrifice, therefore, comprehends the whole of that religious service which the law of God enjoins, and which reason dictates and approves. The active and animated service which this living sacrifice requires, will constitute our everlasting employment and happiness; purifying our nature, and conforming us to the holy image of God, it is the most acceptable service which we can render to him--a service not more enjoined by reason than agreeable to every good principle of our nature.

Recommended, then, as this sacrifice is by its exalted qualities, we behold in them motives sufficiently strong to lead us to present ourselves a sacrifice to God.

But this duty is urged by other considerations, that make the most powerful appeal to every generous and amiable feeling.

III. For "the mercies of God" are the motives which the apostle urges, in my text, as the most constraining and powerful principles of Christian duty.

He does not display the awful majesty and power of Jehovah, which demand the reverence of his creatures; he does not make bare that arm of [435/436] justice which will not spare the transgressor; the holy apostle does not assume the severe tone of command, or the more appalling language of denunciation; he exhibits the mercies of God as the motive to present ourselves a sacrifice to him, and he therefore uses the mild language of persuasion, as more congenial with the theme on which he intends to dwell.

"I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God."

By the mercies of God, your Creator, who raised, from an inert and shapeless mass, those bodies which now erect look towards heaven, and breathed into them the breath of life; who endowed your souls with those spiritual and immortal powers which distinguish you from the brutes that perish, and which constitute your perfection, dignity, and happiness--by the mercies of him in whom you live, and move, and have your being, I beseech you, present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto him.

By the mercies of God, your Benefactor and Preserver, who continually sustains you, who protects you in danger, succours you in misfortune, and crowns you with the rich blessings of life--by the mercies of him who giveth you richly all things to enjoy, I beseech you, present yourselves a sacrifice unto him.

By the mercies of God, your Redeemer, who hath revealed to you, in the Gospel of his Son, his eternal Being and perfections, every truth connected with your duty and your happiness; who spared when we deserved punishment, and in his wrath remembered mercy; who, in your lost estate, laid help on one that is mighty, and by his eternal Son wrought your deliverance from condemnation and [436/437] death--by the mercies of him who is the sure and everlasting refuge of the penitent, the Author of life and glory to all who believe in him, I beseech you, present yourselves a sacrifice to him.

You are not called, brethren, to an unreasonable duty, to a severe and degrading service; for it is the honourable, the dignified service of him who is the source of goodness as well as of power, and who is infinitely exalted above the most perfect of the creatures he has made. The service of that beneficent God in whom is the fulness of felicity, must be productive of the highest pleasures which our nature can receive or enjoy: it confers here, a peace which passeth understanding--and it conducts us hereafter, to those immortal glories which eye hath not seen, which ear hath not heard, and of which the heart of man cannot conceive. If we neglect a service thus honourable and exalted, thus rich in present peace and in immortal felicity, and wilfully refuse to engage in it, though urged by the mercies of our Maker and Preserver, our Redeemer and God, what can we look for but that indignation which Jehovah hath denounced against his adversaries? Even that mercy which we have insulted and spurned will pour upon us the vials of wrath. And when mercy, that so long pleaded for our pardon, is roused to vengeance, who can stand?

The mercies, brethren, of God, our Creator, our Preserver, our everlasting Redeemer, now invite us. Bound to him by infinite obligations, as our "reasonable service," to him let us devote ourselves "a living sacrifice." Through thy grace, O God, may it be a "holy" sacrifice, and through thy mercy in Jesus Christ thy Son, an "acceptable" one unto thee.

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